“I went there, like a proud Indian woman, with dignity, courage, grace and humility”, launched Sacheen Littlefeather at the Oscars museum in Los Angeles, two weeks ago. Two weeks before she died, she had received an official apology from the Academy.
I knew I had to tell the truth. Some people can accept it. And some don’t.
“I knew I had to tell the truth. Some people can accept it. And some people can’t,” she recalled. The actress and Native American activist was thus referring to a scene that had occurred in 1973. The young woman had been booed when she refused an Oscar in the name of Marlon Brando. Having since become one of the faces of the fight for the rights of artists from the Native American community in the cinema industry, she died at the age of 75.
In its Twitter post, the Academy Awards posted a quote from the late actress: “When I’m gone, always remember that every time you stand up for your truth, you’ll keep my voice and the voices of our nations and our peoples”.
Sacheen Littlefeather, Native American civil rights activist who famously declined Marlon Brando’s 1973 Best Actor Academy Award, dies at 75. pic.twitter.com/OlpsoItlCw
— The Academy (@TheAcademy) October 3, 2022
An apology, almost fifty years later
“The insults you suffered because of this statement were misplaced and unwarranted,” Academy President David Rubin wrote in his official apology letter.
Two weeks before his death, the Academy held a ceremony at its new museum in Los Angeles to honor him and publicly apologize for his treatment at the 1973 Academy Awards.
This is the first evening to be broadcast live worldwide. As she takes the stage to explain on behalf of Brando why he didn’t want to accept his Best Actor Oscar for The Godfather, the actress is booed by the audience. Brando had asked her to decline the award for him in protest at the film industry’s treatment of Native Americans.
She said that it was even necessary to prevent the star of the western John Wayne from physically attacking her as she left the stage.
At the end of this scene, Clint Eastwood had joked about what was “the nature of a cowboy”, then triggering laughter and applause from the audience…
A career on hold
Of Apache and Yaqui descent, Maria Louise Cruz was born on November 14, 1946 in Salinas, California. In 1969, she participated in the occupation of Alcatraz, an action to highlight the Native American cause. From then on, she called herself “Sacheen Littlefeather”. She was a member of the Screen Actors Guild – the first union of screen actors founded in 1933.
In the months since the Oscars, Sacheen Littlefeather has been unable to find work in Hollywood, as casting directors have ganged up on not employing her. She then decides with other activists to travel across Europe in defense of the threatened Amerindian civilisation. This trip will take her to the Larzac plateau, in France, in support of the peasants against the monopolization of their land by the army.
It’s never too late for an apology. It’s never too late for forgiveness.
Asked by reporters ahead of the ceremony how she felt about waiting so long to receive an apology, Sacheen Littlefeather showed no hard feelings, philosophically declaring: “It’s never too late for an apology. It’s never too late for forgiveness”.
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Oscar challenger Sacheen Littlefeather dies